By Rachel Belle
Old people. That’s who I always thought spent their time inside of an Elks Lodge. I imagined it was kind of an adult fraternity for old dudes who may or may not wear funny hats while doing secret rituals. But Seattle’s Queen Anne and Ballard lodges are seeing a bunch of new, young and energetic members.
“When I first moved to Seattle, one of the first things somebody told me was ‘Seattle is full of the nicest people you’ll never get to know’ because everybody has their circle,” says 29-year-old, Esteemed Leading Knight Elect, Jesse Calixto. “It just seemed like that was a place this didn’t exist, or if it did exist, people really wanted to expand that circle.”
Daniel Hunt, a 28-year-old member, explains the other perks.
“Nine dollars a month. You’ve got a gym, you’ve got a sauna, you have an amazing view of The Sound. On top of all that, you’ve got community. Lots of really cool folks who are invested in having fun together and making the world better with their charitable efforts. One of the best decisions I ever made [was] coming here.”
As I met with the group at the Queen Anne lodge, watching the sun set over the Puget Sound and drinking a discounted micro brew that Dan insisted on buying me, I wondered if I would consider joining.
“You have to be 21, you have to be a U.S. citizen, you have to be proposed for membership by another member and you have to be endorsed by two other members,” Hunt says.
But there’s a bit more than that. When getting sworn in, you’ll be asked if you believe in God, and your answer must be affirmative.
“The whole provision of believing in God, and also saying that you’ve never been affiliated with the Communist party. That’s all stuff that stemmed during the big Red Scare, I think,” says Calixto. “When I was filling out the paperwork and it said ‘Do you believe in God?’ I felt really iffy about that. But people around me said it doesn’t denote a Christian God or a Jewish God, it can be a higher power. Just something other than yourself that’s bigger than you.”
It’s a sign that the Elk’s are evolving. Celeste Miller says women have only been allowed to join since 1995.
“I decided not to hold that against them, because it is changing. There are a lot of women at this lodge and I think that it’s growing in diversity and I’m really excited about that.”
She was especially drawn in by the charity work that Elks do, “For example, they support therapists for children, its free for the children and families. Also they work with Toys For Tots. They do a lot of fundraisers for veterans.”
One of my preconceived notions turned out to be true! The Elks do have secret rituals that Calixto proclaimed too secret to tell me about.
“The Elks Lodge was started by a group of actors, actually, in the late 1800’s. They were called the Jolly Cork Players and they were very theatrical. You can tell in the writings, that I can’t tell you about, that they were really influenced by Shakespeare. So the writing is really elegant and just lots of fun.”
You can hear these secret writings at your initiation ceremony, if you’re deemed cool enough to be the newest member of an Elks lodge.